The Paris Climate Conference’s “REDD+” agreement lacks the recognition and enforcement of crucial resource tenure and human rights for forest communities prior to funding 

by Norman Lippman 11-29-15

“REDD, or reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, is one of the most controversial issues in the climate change debate. The basic concept is simple: governments, companies or forest owners in the South should be rewarded for keeping their forests instead of cutting them down. ” REDD-Monitor

The world’s largest forests & their peoples primarily exist because these forests were not profitable to exploit due to inaccessibility, danger or fear of diseases.  REDD+’s is creating an economic incentive to now make these forests & their peoples accessible. Carbon credit entrepreneurs, Government entities & NGOs have already started pushing REDD+ into the last remaining large forests.  These “REDD+ pushers” seem more interested in to getting a cut of the carbon credit action than protecting the rights of forest people.  The Guardian’s Sam Knight correctly wrote about REDD+ in his article, The incredible plan to make money grow on trees , “When money and trees mix, it is normally local people who get screwed”

Screwed is an understatement. REDD+ could cause the planet’s last great land grab, the destruction or impoverishment of millions of forest peoples & the loss of their unique resource management knowledge. These are  dire problems that 1.6 billion people who depend on the forests increasingly face, due to  the current REDD+ agreement.

REDD+ does not require crucial  land & resource tenure and human rights for forest communities prior to funding.

Concerning these problems and unenforced rights, the latest draft of REDD+ reads in Decision 1/CP.16:
“72. … requests developing country Parties, when developing and implementing their national strategies or action plans, to address, inter alia, drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, land tenure issues, forest governance issues, gender considerations and the safeguards identified in paragraph 2 of annex II to this decision, ensuring the full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, inter alia, indigenous peoples and local communities;”

The key toothless words there are “…request… to address …ensuring  applied to the land tenure issues…. forest governance.  This is vague “UNese” language wrapped in vague “UNese” providing the dangerous illusion of  safeguards that are not there.

Evidently the REDD+ negotiator believe that “requesting to address ‘land tenure rights or forest governance ( read human rights) & ensuring participation” is adequate for marginalized traditional forest peoples.  Would  those climate negotiators  sign an agreement not to have their family’s “ land tenure, property rights or human rightsenforced but just request them to be addressed?

REDD+ agreement in its current vague & dangerous form is to be included in the Paris COP21 agreement text. But it should only be included if it modified to stipulate that prior to REDD+ funding,  the resource & human rights of the forest peoples must be enforced or up to a sufficient standard & continue to show monitored improvement.

The rule of law is a prerequisite for sustainable forest management in the global economy. I learned this while filming and interviewing Aristeo Blanco, a member of a Mexican tropical forestry community that profitably & “biologically sustainably” manage their tropical forest ecosystem & produce certified sustainable dimensioned  lumber.

Standing in his community’s towering bio diverse forest, Aristeo patted a huge mahogany tree ladened with vines and bromeliads. He explained that it takes over 85 years for it to get that big and ready to harvest. But, if his family doesn’t have the security that their forest will remain theirs, how can they or their descendants plan to benefit from growing trees?. Instead they’ll fell and burn them so they can plant corn, which they are more likely to harvest. Even with a land title, if they do not have the right to negotiate for their sustainable lumber’s fair price, then they can not afford the cost to manage its growth and regeneration for an 85 years life cycle. But because they have community title to their forest, human rights and economic incentives, they are managing and protecting it for the long-term.

This is a rarity. The ‘Living on Earth” radio show reported that “governments own about 75 percent of the world’s forests, less than ten percent legally belong to communities. In Indonesia, 65 million people live off forests—most of them have no official rights to the land they consider theirs.  In the eyes of the Forestry Ministry, they’re squatters occupying a national resource.” Governments have not protected these forests as effectively as people, like Aristeo, who are on a level legal playing field.

The World Bank’s Social Development Department agrees with Aristeo about the importance land tenure, it stated the following:

“In one of the most robust studies available on the role of community-owned forests in carbon sequestration with data from 325 sites in 12 countries covering 594 user groups and 211 forest associations, Agrawal (2008) shows that the larger the forest area under community ownership the higher the probability for better biodiversity maintenance, community livelihoods and carbon sequestration.

The growing evidence that communities and households with secure tenure rights protect, maintain and conserve forests is an important consideration for the world’s climate if REDD schemes go forward, and even if they do not.”

The private sector and intergovernmental organizations recognize that clear tenure rights are fundamental to secure and predictable transactions needed to compensate for the opportunity costs of reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.

“….The cost range of recognizing community tenure rights (average $3.31/ha) is several times lower than the yearly costs estimates for …. an international REDD scheme ($400/ha/year to $20,000/ha/year).

… a relatively insignificant investment in recognizing tenure rights has the potential to significantly improve the world’s carbon sequestration and management capacity. …, prioritizing policies and actions aimed at recognizing forest community tenure rights can be a cost-effective step to improve the likelihood that REDD programs meet their goals.” World Bank SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT WORKING PAPERS Paper No. 120/December 2009

From my work and documentary interviews with Indigenous and non indigenous forest communities in 7 Latin American countries over 43 years, I believe that REDD+ should require that these resource rights be made statutory & binding for all indigenous people and other forest peoples whose rights do not conflict with the rights of adjoining  peoples. These rights should be a prerequisite for the granting of REDD+ funds and funds should be earmarked for their securing or resolution and enforcement.

For forest communities, REDD+ should stipulate that resource rights shall be secured or rights conflicts resolved before more than 10% of REDD+ funding are granted. These rights of tenure shall be secured for at least three times the life of the oldest tree species in the forest in question and 51% of REDD+ funds or carbon offsets received by the national or sub national Government or other entities will be available to the forest peoples for the enforcement of these rights.

Private forest owners should be required to have their forests titled as a conservation easement in adherence to the REDD+ program resource management plan for no less than 3x the life of the oldest tree species in their forest and more if the REDD+ plan requires it before any REDD+ funds are granted or invested. Non compliance would result in return of funds plus penalties and 51% of REDD+ funds or carbon offsets received by the national or sub national Governments or other entities will be earmarked for enforcement.

The Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) has developed Standards for design and implementation of REDD+. Their standards need to be binding in REDD+ now, not later. Their standards are almost as binding and enforceable as the ones we propose. At least they are a starting place.

The private sector would surely prefer to have land conflicts resolved so as to minimize financial and reputation risk.  The feudal interests, and the corrupt  support  the current  draft of  REDD+,  expedite it because it has no binding safeguards.

Money for REDD+ can be had easier than enforcing the rule of law in remote tropical forests. REDD+ could be easily gamed unless it requires standards for resource tenure and human rights. There will never be enough environmental cops to protect these forests from either those who are “above the law”, corrupt insiders, or those “below the law”, poor forest people, who have no long-term legal stake in the forests.

Governments have not protected these forests as effectively as those few empowered forest peoples, that have human and tenure rights, so they can depend on and defend their forest. Those few legally empowered forest peoples have a stake in their future and are the most likely to protect them.  They have rights most real democracies take for granted but now must be extended to all forest people before REDD+ brings them in to the carbon market.  One of the most cost and environmentally effective next steps will be  to stipulate that prior to REDD+ funding human rights and resource tenure be enforced statutory rights.

Norman Lippman, documentary filmmaker at the Living Story Foundation has worked in integrated resource development and documentary film in 7 Latin American countries over 43 years.  He is directing a longitudinal documentary series exploring profitable and biologically sustainable   community management of their Tropical forests.

#REDD #land tenure #human rights

 

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